Wake County high school students set to return to classrooms next week for 1st time since start of COVID-19 pandemic

WAKE COUNTY, N.C. (WTVD) -- Next week, some Wake County high school students will return for in-person instruction for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I just am so ready for kids to be in the building," said Chris Remaley, math teacher at Athens Drive Magnet High School in Raleigh. "It was fantastic during exam week when we had kids here every day taking exams and just seeing people, just really started to feel like normal. And that's really kind of what I'm hoping next week is going to be like, is to sort of get back into a normal routine."

High school students going to schools in the Wake County Public School System will be divided in three groups and will go to school in rotations for one week at a time. When they're not at school, they'll keep learning virtually.

Athens Drive High Principal Stephen Mares said about half of their students will return for in-person instruction with the rest enrolled in the district's Virtual Academy. About 350 students will be in school at a time. Principal Mares said in-person class sizes will range from zero students to 10.

"I really feel like we are ready to accept students and we can do it in a safe, orderly manner to keep everybody safe and to go on with teaching and learning, which is what we want to do," Principal Mares said.

He said 98 percent of his educators will teach virtually and in person at the same time.

"You may have 10 of them here in the room with you and then the other 20 virtual," Remaley said.

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Mares and Remaley admit there are concerns most educators won't be vaccinated when students return.

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"I mean I'd be a fool to say, 'No, I don't,'" Remaley said. "But I, just, as far as my priorities go, I mean I really feel like I have to be there for the kids and whatever comes with it. I sort of give the analogy, like ripping off the band aid, we just need to."

"Yeah, I think we have teachers that are concerned," said Principal Stephen Mares. "I'm concerned I'm not vaccinated. I'd love to be, so that is in the back of people's minds. I mean, you know, we all want to be safe during this pandemic. There's no doubt about it. But as I told our staff, 'You know that we can make it happen safely.'"

ABC11 got a tour of Athens Drive High to get an idea of what students can expect next week.

Class layouts look different so students can socially distance, hallways have arrows on the ground so students walk in certain directions and there are posters reminding students to wear their masks.

Staff and students will undergo health screenings before entering school buildings.

Students will need to wear their masks, except during designated mask breaks and while eating lunch. They won't be able to leave campus for lunch. At lunch, they must sit at a spot with a paw print and all face the same direction.

"It's not going to be sitting around a cafeteria table with six of your best friends talking, joking," Principal Mares said. "That's going to be different and students are going to have to realize that, 'Yes, it's school and we love to have you back and we're so fired up to have you here. But it's not going to be school, like it was on March 13 of last year.'"

You can find more information here.

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